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Are you a bystander to bullying?

bullying; bystander; teasing; hurting; feelings; violence; power; victim; bullies; bully; spectator; hurt; tease; mediate; mediator;


What is a bystander?

A bystander is someone who happens to be there when something is happening.

This topic is about being a bystander when someone is being bullied.

Every day the news is full of stories about people being bullied by someone who is more powerful than they are.

  • Maybe the person being bullied looks different.
  • Maybe they have a different religion.
  • Maybe they are trying to move to a safer place.
  • Maybe they haven't got a job.
  • Maybe they are trying to make a life for themselves and their families.
  • Maybe they have a disability.
  • Maybe they come from a different culture.
  • Maybe some more powerful people are bullying them just because they can!

Well, wemay not be able to do much for all the people around the world who are being bullied, but we can make a start by looking closely at what happens in our own lives.

What is bullying?

"He didn't really mean to."
"He was only joking."
"Well, she was the first to say it."
"I was only sticking up for my friend."
"Well, she doesn't try to join in."
"She thinks she's so good!"
"It was only a bit of fun."

Have you heard people say things like this when they have been explaining why they stood by while someone was being bullied or hurt?

Maybe you have said those kinds of things yourself?

Everyone has the power to influence the lives of others in some way.

Bullying is whensomeone uses their power to hurt or upset someone else.

bystander to bullying

Who gets bullied?

Anyone can be the victim of bullying at any time. It can be simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.fighting

Our topics on Dealing with bullies, Bullying - being unkind to others, and Teasing others and how to stop will give you more information about bullying.

"Don't tease someone just because they're different. We are all different." – Connor

Being a bystander to bullying

When bullying is happening and you are there, then you have four choices.

1. Stand and watch

If something is happening, it is normal for people to go and see what is going on.

If someone is being hurt by one or more people, it is normal to feel:

  • curious – why, what is this about?
  • excited – other people's emotions can be 'catching'.
  • afraid – what if that person being hurt was me?

Standing and watching someone get hurt puts you on the same side as the bully. If you are not helping the victim, then you are giving your support to the bully. Do you want to do that?

"Sometimes it's hard to do anything because the bully could pick on you. You have to get other people to support you" – Kylie

2. Support the bully

Everyone likes to feel powerful at times, but supporting a bully is not the way to go.

There are reasons why someone might takes sides with a bully.

  • Maybe you don't like the person who is the victim.
  • Maybe the bully is a friend.
  • Maybe you are afraid that if you don't support the bully, you could be the next victim.

Helping a bully to hurt someone is misusing your power. How would you feel if you were the victim?

"I joined in because I was scared. I felt bad after that - K----was hurt and I had helped" – David

3. Get away from there

It is normal to think:

  • I don't want to get involved.
  • I don't want to be hurt.
  • They probably deserved it anyway.
  • Keeping out of trouble is best.

getting away from bullyingGetting away from bullying will keep you safe. Once again, it is the bully who wins. By going away you are in effect telling the bully that what he is doing is OK with you – that you don't care if the victim is being hurt.

Is that what you believe? What if next time the victim is you?

"I pretended that I didn't know what was going on. I walked away" – D---.

4. Be an active bystander

If someone is being hurt, it is normal to want to help that person. But look at the situation carefully before you act.

It's important to keep yourself safe.

  • You may try to stop it happening by saying something and getting others to say something.
  • You may go to help the victim.
  • You may try pulling the bully or bullies away, but only if it is safe for you to do so.
  • You may try getting help – for example, asking others to help or getting a teacher or other authority figure to come and stop the bullying.
  • You may offer to act as a mediator – someone who listens to both sides and tries to help resolve the conflict.

Here are some things you might try.

  • Say in a loud voice to everyone, "Come on guys, we're not watching this bullying", and walk away, taking others with you.
  • Tell the person being bullied that you don't like what is happening to them and ask, "Would you like me to tell someone or go with you to tell someone?"
    would you like me to tell the teacher?
  • Get the victim out of there if it feels safe to do so. Say things like, "Oh, there you are, someone is looking for you", or "We're waiting for you to play with us."
  • Use humour. Say things to the bully like, "Hey couldn't you find anyone smaller to pick on?" or say to the person being bullied, "Watch out, you could hurt him!", then laugh and encourage others to join in.
  • Use fear – "Hey I'd watch out mate. Someone's dobbed you in."
  • Use your brains and send someone to get help, or go yourself.
  • Put up your hand in the stop sign, just like you were taught when you were a little kid, and use a strong voice to shout, "Stop that!"
  • Threaten, "We're dobbing on you for bullying."
  • Get your friends to come and help stop the bullying.
  • Say "Come on guys/girls, this is not a good way to sort things out. Would you like me to act as a mediator and help you?" (Our topic on Mediation – helping people sort things out, may give you some ideas. Many schools run a Peer Mediation Program and you can be trained to become a mediator in your school).

Shout, "Look out, Ms (or Mr) (put the name of your strictest teacher) is on duty!" People will run away and be good! (Kids tip)

It is really important to be kind to the victim (the person who was bullied) at other times and to act as a witness to what happened. This sends the message that bullying is not seen as OK by you, your friends and your school.

"My friends and I went and told the teacher."

Non-physical bullying

Hurting people's feelings can be just as bad, if not worse than being beaten up, especially if it goes on every day.

Gossiping, spreading rumours and passing notes has always been the coward's way of bullying and not being seen. Nowadays they use phones and the internet too. 

Check out 'Cyberbullying - bullying from a distance' if you have been bullied or upset by someone using the internet or mobile phones to make you unhappy.

If you know someone who is being bullied in this way, then you have 3 choices.

  1. Say and do nothing about it. In this case the bullying will continue.
  2. Let the bully know that it is not OK and you will report it if the bullying continues.
  3. Report the bullying to the teacher, through the anti-bullying process in your school, or put bullying on the agenda for class meeting. If the bullying is happening outside school, then report it to a trusted adult.
    helping someone with a disability

If someone wasteasing me, I'd say, "Your sarcastic insinuation is too highly obnoxious to be appreciated by my superior intellect!" – Jessica

I didn't do anything

If someone is being bullied and you know about it, then saying "I didn't do anything" can make you feel better… or can it?

Ask yourself these questions – what if someone was:

  • hurt and "I didn't do anything?"
  • so upset that he wagged school to get away from being bullied and "I didn't do anything?"
  • so desperate that he tried to harm himself, and "I didn't do anything?" 

help stop bullyingYou may not have joined in the bullying yourself, but by not doing anything to help the victim, you let the bully think that what was happening was OK.

Will it happen again? Yes.

Could it happen to you? Yes.

"You need to say, 'I don't like that' if someone is saying or doing something you don't like, then tell someone. If you don't tell, then bullying won't stop" – James

"I had a rumour spread about me saying that I didn't wash my hair. I felt so embarrassed and wore a lot of perfume to prove that I do wash. I asked who started it and found that it was someone who I thought was my mate. I asked her about it and she said she was only joking. I didn't think it was funny and I told her. She hasn't done it since I told everyone who spread the rumour."

"Edmond Burke wrote 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.' My dad told me that." Patrick

"We have a 'happy book' in our class. We can ask for the class to help us with problems. We have 5 school values. They are honesty, responsibility, collaboration, respect and equity.

Anyone can ask for the book. The bully, the person being bullied or a bystander.
  • We say what's wrong and who is involved.
  • The class listens to each person's account of what happened.
  • Everyone gives suggestions on how to fix things.
  • The class decides which school value has been broken.
  • The people involved have to work out what they could have done instead and how they will handle the situation next time.

friendsEverything is recorded in the book.

Those involved write it all down on a special sheet and get it signed by the teacher.

If this problem has happened before, they have to get it signed at home too".

Dr Kim says

Dr Kim"Don't get involved" is something we are always hearing. Not to get involved is easier than trying to help someone who is being bullied. But that doesn't help the person being bullied – it just helps the bully to get away with it.

If you see someone being bullied, get involved and try to help.

Everyone has feelings. How would you feel if you were being bullied? Wouldn't you like someone to help you?

Be an active bystander and help to stop bullying.

Use your power to let others know that bullying is not OK.

Our topic 'Stick up for yourself! Being assertive' may give you some ideas on how to do this.

Every school in Australia has an anti-bullying policy. Go to  to find out more. If you see bullying happening in your school, report what you've seen.

Bullying needs to stop.

How to help stop bullying

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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